Left to right: Violinist Christoforos Petridis, pianist Georgia Lazaridou, and mezzo-soprano Sophia Pelekasis performing during the Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation’s Maria Callas tribute on September 27. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)
NEW YORK – The Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation (HACF) presented an impressive event titled ‘Maria Callas: A Tribute to Her Life and Music’ on September 27 at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City, celebrating ‘La Divina’ in honor of the centennial of her birthday on December 2. The event began with an informative presentation on Callas by the renowned author and journalist Nicholas Gage and continued with an enchanting musical program featuring talented young Greek musicians.
HACF Board of Directors Chairman Nicholas Kourides gave the welcoming remarks noting that Maria Callas “is considered one of the greatest stars in opera and to this day continues to inspire young musicians.”
Nicholas Gage, who wrote the internationally acclaimed biography of Maria Callas ‘Greek Fire’, provided a background on Callas’ extraordinary career and life in his presentation which included video clips of Callas performing some of her most famous pieces. He quoted from famous fans including Leonard Bernstein who called Callas “the Bible of opera,” and Noel Coward who wrote in his diary after seeing Callas perform at Covent Garden, “she is one of the few great artists that I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Gage also quoted an Italian musicologist who noted that “during the 10 years of her unquestioned reign between 1949 and 1959, she [Callas] bestowed upon the world more music, more art, more humanity than any other individual in the 20th century.”
HACF Board member and accomplished pianist in her own right Maria Asteriadou brought together the young and gifted artists for the musical portion of the event- violinist and Thessaloniki-native Christoforos Petridis, Greek-American mezzo-soprano Sophia Pelekasis, and pianist Georgia Lazaridou, also a Thessaloniki native. The musicians presented famous works associated with Callas’ illustrious career, including Schubert’s Ave Maria, the aria ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ by Pucchini, and the ‘Habanera’ from Bizet’s Carmen.
Petridis on violin dazzled the audience with his stirring performance and remarkable depth and range in all the pieces, including Antonin Dvořák’s Songs My Mother Taught Me, Op. 55, No. 4 with Lazaridou and Pelekasis, in Carmen Fantasy by Franz Waxman which brought audience members to their feet for a standing ovation, and in Jules Massenet’s Meditation from Thais.
Pelekasis demonstrated a fine vocal ability especially in the song ‘Morgen’ by Richard Strauss and in the Habanera, while Lazaridou had the opportunity to shine in Casta Diva, arranged for solo piano. Casta Diva is, of course, the aria from Callas’ signature role, Bellini’s druid priestess Norma, a clip of which was played during Mr. Gage’s presentation.
Currently a student at The Juilliard School in New York, Pelekasis has performed at the Greek Embassy in Washington, DC, and has appeared in several operatic productions at The Catholic University of America. Lazaridou has given acclaimed performances worldwide, including those at the Athens Megaron Concert Hall, the Chetham International Festival, and the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. Petridis graduated from the State Conservatory of Thessaloniki and has won numerous awards in national and international competitions. He has performed at the Athens Megaron, Vienna Musikverein, and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. He is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree at Kutztown University under the tutelage of Kurt Nikkanen.
The young musicians received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance as audience members looked forward to seeing them perform again soon.
A reception followed the event during which attendees had the opportunity to congratulate and speak with the artists.
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